School of Communication alumna S. Jenell Trigg (C78) never stopped doing her homework. Every five years, she sits down to evaluate her life over the past half-decade.
“I started this when I was 20,” she said. “I’d write down what my five-year projection was.”
At age 35, Trigg said she realized that her next check-point would be at age 40, and as a national sales manager and director of marketing for a Baltimore television station, was she truly getting everything out of her career that she wanted? A former School of Communication Department of Theatre major who once dreamed of a career on the stage, Trigg decided to pursue the “business side” of creative life. Her big break came when she scored an interview at Leo Burnett nine months after graduating. Thus began her initial career in advertising and marketing in Leo Burnett’s client service management program. Trigg spent the next 16 years as a sales and marketing executive for the NBC and FOX owned and operated television stations in Chicago, and in sales management for the FOX and ABC television affiliates in Baltimore.
Realizing that she wanted to go back to school to pursue either an MBA or a law degree before the age of 40, Trigg said good-bye to the idea of saving up for a coveted red Mercedes convertible for a 40th birthday present for herself and decided to spend the money on law school instead.
Four years of juggling a fulltime job, first at WJZ-TV, now owned and operated by CBS in Baltimore, then working as a law clerk for FCC Commissioner Chong during her second year, attending The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law at night in Washington all while navigating three hours of daily commuting time, Trigg earned her law degree before turning 40, graduating magna cum laude, and with certification from the law school’s Institute for Communications Law Studies, with honors. She was one of the first evening students to do so.
Trigg took a 75 percent pay cut when she took the clerk job with the FCC.
“I took five steps backwards to take unlimited steps forward,” Trigg said of her “calculated risk” to change careers at 40 and take an initial financial hit in the process. The risk paid off — she was promoted to the Telecom Policy Analyst position at the FCC while in law school, and then spent the last few months of law school working as the Assistant Chief Counsel for Telecommunications for the Office of Advocacy at the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“Receiving these two significant positions while still in law school was a major factor in jump-starting my legal career,” Trigg said.
Trigg is now a partner of Lerman Senter PLLC (LS), a communications law boutique, and is the chair of the firm’s Intellectual Property and New Technology Practice Group as well as the first African-American partner. She specializes in privacy and data security issues, as well as intellectual property concerns, and government regulation of the Internet and new technologies. She is a recognized authority on small and minority telecommunications business issues from an industry, regulatory, and legislative perspective, and works with the FCC’s Federal Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age as a subject matter expert and a member of the Funding Acquisition Taskforce.
From majoring in theatre at Northwestern to working in retail after graduation, then advertising, then sales and ultimately going to law school to become a legal expert in privacy and data security issues, Trigg realizes her career path in communications has been anything but traditional.
“Every creative person needs to know something about the business side,” Trigg said. “You need to understand the specific industry, because that’s who is going to hire you, will determine how you get compensated, and your growth potential… How deep you need to get involved in the nuances of the media or entertainment industry, depends on where you want to go.”